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How to Love by Katie Cotugno was one of those books I bought purely because I thought the cover was adorable. A YA book with a cute, lovey-dovey cover always gets me. This was one of the books I bought when I was going ham in Barnes & Noble after my dad gave me a gift card for Christmas. I’m telling y’all, I went nuts. Half of the books I bought were ones I had never even heard of, including this one.
How to Love is told in two different time frames that alternate each chapter: before and after. The story revolves around Reena and Sawyer who grew up together because their dads were best friends. In the ‘before’ chapters, it tells the story of lovestruck Reena who has loved Sawyer for as long as she can remember. She and her best friend, Allie, would make lists revolving around him and spend hours out on Allie’s swings just talking about the clothes he wore, the things he said, etc. Skipping to the pertinent part of the ‘before’ section and not giving away any spoilers, Sawyer skips town after a devastating incident, and Reena is left alone with his baby inside of her.
The ‘after’ chapters fast forwards to three years later with Reena raising her daughter, Hannah, as a single parent. Reena abandoned her dreams of going to Northwestern, settling instead for the local community college and working at her father’s restaurant. Sawyer, having been gone all of this time, suddenly reappears, once again turning Reena’s world upside down.
To be honest, this book wasn’t my favorite, and I think it boils down to one simple fact: I didn’t connect with any of the characters.
Reena: As the main character of the book, she’s the one that’s supposed to be the awkward, shy girl that comes into her own by the end of the book. This all happened, but I was so frustrated with the decisions that she made within the book that I found myself not only not being able to connect with her, but also, I just didn’t really like her. A lot of that has to do with the way she treated her best friend, Allie, in the ‘before’ section, and her boyfriend, Aaron, in the ‘after section.
Allie: She is Reena’s best friend as a teenager, and at first, she’s one of my favorite characters. She slipped out of that when she started ditching Reena. There was one chapter where Reena and Allie had just had a fight. Reena was ready to put it behind them. Allie invites her over, and Reena expects to go over there and them have a good talk. Instead, Reena is bombarded with Allie’s new life. She’s having a party, something that she didn’t mention to Reena on the phone. Not to mention, Sawyer is there. It just irks me that she blindsided Reena like that. Plus, she ends up betraying Reena and starts dating Sawyer, knowing that Reena has “loved” him her entire life.
Aaron: He is one of three characters that I have no grief with through the entire book. He’s the perfect girlfriend to Reena, which says a lot because he’s mature in the fact that he’s a great father figure for Hannah.
Shelby: She is Reena’s best friend in the ‘after’ section, and she’s also Aaron’s twin sister. She’s easily my favorite character because she’s spunky, fun and values education. Plus, she does her best to keep Reena in line.
Sawyer: Okay, I could probably write a novel about why I don’t like him, but I’ll try to keep it simple. As the leading man in the book, you would think he has some redeeming qualities, but no. There isn’t a single thing about Sawyer that I like. He’s a skeezeball. He’s manipulative. He doesn’t have any respect for Reena, his family or hers. He leaves when he wants without warning. Honestly, I don’t like him in the ‘before’ or ‘after’ sections. I think his character alone is enough to make me dislike this book.
I give this book a 2.5 out of 5. Because I couldn’t really connect with the characters and also generally didn’t like the characters, it was hard for me to really enjoy this book. I think the storyline is interesting and believable for what it is as far as the blueprints go, but the frustration I have with the choices Reena makes when it’s Team Sawyer or Team Aaron is just overall frustrating. Because of that, I found myself not really enjoying the book and wishing for it to end so I could get back to reading Anna Karenina.